Ksen pursues peace of the action

Area activist finds fertile ground for message post-9-11
By Pamela H. Sacks

TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
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WORCESTER — Kevin M. Ksen pulls a chain out from under his blue plaid shirt. Swinging on the end of it are two dog tags — his father’s, from Robert Ksen’s time in the Army between the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

This comes as a surprise. Few people would seem less likely to be wearing military identification than Mr. Ksen, who is a leading figure in the local antiwar movement.

The dog tags remind him, he says, that his antiwar activities are not against the men and women fighting in Iraq. Rather, he wants to stop the war and quickly get the troops home.

“I need to remember when I’m out demonstrating and praying that I’m against a president who has decided to ignore the world,” says Mr. Ksen, a devout Catholic. “His father bombed people back to the Stone Age. George Bush wants revenge and cheaper oil.”

Mr. Ksen, who is 37 and intense in a soft-spoken way, was one of an initial group of 30 to 40 people who came together immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, to oppose military retaliation to the terrorist attacks. They met at Clark University and formed Worcester Peace Works.

Mr. Ksen volunteered to build a list of e-mail addresses. A community activist for 16 years, he started with 100 e-mail addresses of people who might be interested.

“There were people who joined I didn’t know, and people I knew and invited to join,” Mr. Ksen says. “There are a lot of folks that share leadership.”

The database now numbers 763 participants who represent a wide range of ages and backgrounds, he says. About a third are connected to area colleges and universities.

“Some may have come to one meeting, and there are others who have gone to every meeting since 9-11,” Mr. Ksen says. “For me, given all the things I’ve done in Worcester in the past, I’ve never seen anything that big. I thought we’d be working with 30 or 40 people.”

The group holds a vigil at Lincoln Square each Tuesday and has organized bus trips to demonstrations against the war in New York City and Boston. Members meet once a week at Clark University.

Mr. Ksen had been spending an hour or two a day on antiwar activities; when the war started, he redoubled his efforts, working the phones and finding out what people felt they had the energy to do.

For the first four or five months, Mr. Ksen was at every Lincoln Square vigil. That was not possible after he took his current job as site coordinator for the Worcester Youth Center.

He joined thousands of other protesters in Manhattan twice, on Feb. 15 and March 22.

“They were very different experiences,” he says. “On the 15th, people were quickly locked behind barricades and confined to narrow areas. Police on horses nearly galloped through. I was talking to someone and I turned and a horse’s nostrils were 2 inches from my face.”

He says he saw the police using billy clubs on 18-year-olds and 56-year-olds. It was, he says, “a very negative experience.”

On March 20, the day after the bombing started, Mr. Ksen was at the United Congregational Church in Worcester for a “teach-in” with 120 high school students who walked out of class in protest of the war. They had asked him for help in expressing their feelings in a constructive way.

“They said, `If we walk out at 11:30, what will we do?’ I stepped forward and offered to work with them,” Mr. Ksen recalls.

Two days later, he was on a bus headed to Manhattan with 42 other antiwar activists. Things went better than in February.

“Police were more relaxed and off to the side and smiling, and allowed people to march,” he says.

While the membership of Worcester Peace Works is diverse, some activists have charged that the antiwar movement nationwide is riddled with anti-Israeli sentiment.

The issue recently burst into the open when Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, the largest-circulation liberal Jewish magazine in the world, was barred by a pro-Palestinian group from speaking at a demonstration in San Francisco. Mr. Lerner is an outspoken opponent of the war, who backs the creation of a Palestinian state.

Mr. Ksen says he was not troubled by Mr. Lerner’s exclusion because the process agreed upon was that any one of the four groups sponsoring the demonstration had veto power over any speaker.

`AMERICA’S ROLE’

“There is history we have to learn better about Israel and Palestine,” Mr. Ksen advises. “We have to understand America’s role. The helicopters and bombs come from the U.S. The discussion we most need to have is what has been our role — building up their (Israel’s) military and not holding them accountable.”

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, who is against the war, sees things differently.

“One of the reasons I had, and still have, great reservations about the war is that I fear we will create a more difficult climate for peace,” he says, referring to Israel and the Palestinians. “I worry we are inflaming the Arab world and jeopardizing their (Israel’s) security. We need a world that respects Israel.”

Since his graduation from the College of the Holy Cross in 1987, Mr. Ksen has dedicated himself to social issues. He says he started down that road as a youngster growing up in West Warren, a tight-knit community where residents looked out for one another.

He has lived and worked among the needy, seeking to encourage community development and solve the problems of homelessness and youth violence. He said the work has led him to ask: “What are society’s priorities? Where are we spending our money?”

BROADER VISION

While he remains dedicated to local issues, Mr. Ksen says, his membership in the Global Action Network, a local anticorporate globalization group, has given him a broader vision.

That does not mean he has any interest in following the progress of the war going on in Iraq, half a world away.

“My goal was for the war not to start, and now for it to stop as soon as possible,” Mr. Ksen says.